Project teams have deep insight into their initiatives’ inner workings, but unless executives are involved with projects on a daily basis, they likely don’t have the same level of familiarity. Senior staff members may not know where projects are in terms of progress or resource consumption, or even how one project’s metrics compare to others in the organization’s portfolio. It may not create headaches on a day-to-day basis, but this disconnect becomes a serious issue when a project problems arise.
It’s often tempting to keep project problems (especially big ones) under wraps. The team may not think an issue is important enough to bring to the attention of the executives. In other cases, everyone hopes they can develop a solution on their own so they don’t need to make the leadership group aware of the fact they’re experiencing difficulties. While small-scale challenges can typically be addressed and resolved at the project team level, executives need to be alerted to problems that could potentially threaten an initiative’s outcome.
Ensuring the leadership team is aware of outstanding challenges is something PMs should focus on throughout the project life-cycle. If your team is looking for additional ways to build more productive communication channels—where executives are informed of critical project problems and key information gets where it needs to go—consider these common issues that could be hampering your efforts:
- Do the reports provided to executives differentiate critical delays from garden-variety scheduling issues? It’s time consuming to sift through data if it can’t be easily searched and sorted. With too much granular information in front of them, senior staff members may not understand which delays should worry them and which can be handled by the team. Review your reporting structure and flag those delays that are of greatest concern.
- Is the senior management group able to identify the risks that haven’t yet been addressed? Full reporting of risk assessment and mitigation activities is prudent, but be sure any risks that require executive-level attention are highlighted so they can be dealt with in a timely manner. With the leadership team’s participation, you can then discuss risk areas and develop the best strategy to deal with them.
- How frequently are status and other updates made available to executives? Even if project teams try to alert senior staff to problems, key information may not be getting to the right people in time to deploy effective and cost-efficient fixes. To keep the problem-solving efforts on track, consider increasing reporting frequency or explore ways to provide project data to your executives on demand.
Why is it so important to keep your senior staff in the know? First, executives can’t fix what they don’t know is broken. The leadership team has the ability to reapply resources from other efforts to help resolve high-level issues. A concurrent project may be running ahead of schedule or requiring less money than expected. The project team probably can’t access available resources from other initiatives directly, but executives can approve and expedite their reallocation to help get efforts back on track.
It’s also possible the organization would benefit from trimming its project portfolio, but senior managers will have trouble making those types of strategic decisions without comprehensive knowledge about which efforts are having problems. It could be that postponing a troubled project would help improve the company’s financial picture, or shifting market pressures may call for refocusing resources away from projects that are occupying too much staff time to resolve ongoing problems. In these instances, it’s vital that executives are aware of any complications or conflicts across their project portfolio.